Energy Resources Conservation Board

The Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) is an independent, quasi-judicial agency of the Government of Alberta. It regulates the safe, responsible, and efficient development of Alberta's energy resources: oil, natural gas, oil sands, coal, and pipelines. Led by nine Board members, the ERCB's team of engineers, geologists, technicians, economists, and other professionals serve Albertans from thirteen locations across the province.

The ERCB's mission is to ensure that the discovery, development and delivery of Alberta's energy resources take place in a manner that is fair, responsible and in the public interest.

The ERCB adjudicates and regulates matters related to energy within Alberta to ensure that the development, transportation and monitoring of the province's energy resources are in the public interest. The Board provides this assurance of the public interest through its activities in the application and hearing process, regulation, monitoring, and surveillance and enforcement.

The information and knowledge responsibility of the Board includes the collection, storage, analysis, appraisal, dissemination and stakeholder awareness of information. Open access to information develops awareness, understanding and responsible behavior and allows the Board and stakeholders to make informed decisions about energy and utility matters. This responsibility will result in the Board discharging its advisory role with respect to matters under the jurisdiction of the Board.

The government of Alberta owns about 80 per cent of the province's mineral rights, such as oil, natural gas, coal, and the oil sands. In other words, most resources are owned by the people of Alberta through their government. While private companies can develop these resources, the ERCB is authorized by the government to protect the public's interest relating to the discovery, development, and delivery of these resources. Regulation is needed so that non-renewable resources are produced in a safe, responsible, and efficient manner, without waste.

The ERCB also ensures that everyone affected by development has a chance to be heard. When conflicts regarding development remain unresolved between companies and landowners, the ERCB works to settle the issues in a fair and balanced manner.

In 1996, the Alberta Geological Survey (AGS) joined the ERCB. AGS assists the ERCB by providing data, information, knowledge and advice about the geology of Alberta.

History

Alberta's first energy regulatory body was created in 1938. A succession of agencies led to the new ERCB being established January 1, 2008, as a result of the realignment of the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board (EUB) into the ERCB and the Alberta Utilities Commission. The ERCB also includes the Alberta Geological Survey.

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The ERCB regulates the safe, responsible, and efficient development of oil, natural gas, oil sands, and coal, and as well as the pipelines to move the resources to market.

Regulation is done through two core functions: adjudication and regulation, and information and knowledge. ERCB approval must be given at almost every step of an energy project’s life.

Governance

To maintain its autonomous structure, the ERCB answers directly to the Executive Council (Cabinet) of Alberta through the Minister of Energy, but it makes its formal decisions independently in accordance with the six statutes it administers.

Organization structure

The ERCB is led by a Board that consists of up to nine people: a Chairman and Board Members. Supporting the Chairman and Board Members are the Executive Committee, and approximately 850 staff who work in eight main branches: ;ApplicationsThis branch, made up of two groups, provides a streamlined approach to processing some 30 000 energy development applications each year. Staff handle project reviews, audits, and approvals related to new or modified oil and gas facilities, such as wells, pipelines, batteries, and gas plants. The branch also looks after development and conservation projects for oil, gas, oil sands, and coal. ;Compliance and OperationsThis branch ensures compliance and asset/liability management for operating energy developments, including the provision of technical support to Field Surveillance in responding to complaints, uncontrolled releases, and other operational problems. The branch also coordinates the development and application of enforcement policy and practices, provides technical support to the ERCB’s application and adjudicative processes, and assists in developing operational business and technical requirements aimed at the protection of the public and the environment. See EnerFAQs No. 3: Inspections and Enforcement of Energy Developments in Alberta.

;Corporate SupportThis branch incorporates several groups. Human Resources provides services and programs to ensure that a competent and committed workforce is in place to achieve ERCB goals and objectives. The Communications Group develops strategic communication and consultation strategies and delivers related media, Web site, and document services to keep staff and stakeholders informed about ERCB activities. Administrative Services provides building, library, and printing services. ;Public Safety/Field SurveillanceOperating out of a number of centres around the province, field staff inspect construction, operation, and abandonment operations at oil, gas, and oil sands facilities, respond to emergencies and public complaints on a 24-hour basis, facilitate resolution of landowner-industry conflicts, participate in public-industry liaison committees, and ensure a consistent approach to noncompliant operators. The branch also contributes at the field level to industry’s understanding and knowledge of ERCB requirements and regulations so that Albertans are confident that oil and gas operations are conducted in a responsible manner that protects the public, environment, and resources. See EnerFAQs No. 3: Inspections and Enforcement of Energy Developments in Alberta. ;FinanceThis branch provides revenue and expenditure management and administration of the industry funding levy. In addition, staff coordinate the preparation of the ERCB’s three-year business plan and performance reporting. ;Information and Systems ServicesThis branch is responsible for ERCB information systems, support, and technological infrastructure, with a focus on new ways to deliver electronic commerce. Another core area is the collection and dissemination of energy resource information, including oil and gas production. This information is also used to determine provincial royalties, well records, regulatory publications, maps, and various energy databases. ;LawThis branch provides a wide range of legal advice and services to the organization, with a focus on procedural fairness and objectivity. Its responsibilities include application and regulatory policy, hearings, proceedings, related internal and external consultations, and the formulation of energy regulations and legislation. The branch administers intervener funding and leads a key advisory committee that advises the Board on decisions and policy matters.

;ResourcesThis branch comprises the Alberta Geological Survey (AGS) and the Geology and Reserves and Economics Groups. The Geology and Reserves Group conducts an independent assessments of oil, oil sands, gas, and coal reserves in Alberta. AGS provides geoscience research, information, and expertise that support development of the province’s mineral and energy resources. Both groups also provide technical expertise in support of the application and hearing processes. Economics staff provide market analysis and socioeconomic evaluation for major applications, as well as general economic expertise.

Energy Applications

An application is a request by a company for ERCB approval—in the form of a licence, order, permit, or approval—for an energy project. Most energy-related projects require ERCB approval. Each year tens of thousands of applications are reviewed and approved by the ERCB.

The ERCB also plays a vital environmental protection role by reviewing flaring permits, oilfield waste disposal facilities, drilling waste practices, and emergency response plans.

ERCB approval for a facility or project is considered to be routine if an application is complete, there are no landowner objections, and the company applying has met all technical, safety, public consultation, and environmental requirements. The turnaround time for a complete and well-prepared routine application can be as short as a few days.

Some projects require input from other government departments. The ERCB passes such applications to Alberta Environment, which handles distribution to other departments. This “one-window” approach means that applicants do not have to go to each government department for individual review and approval. The general rule is that each government department checks that a specific proposal meets its own regulations and standards and then forwards any deficiencies or concerns to the ERCB via Alberta Environment.

Nonroutine applications take more time—weeks, or even months—to process if there are landowner objections, community and environmental concerns, or objections from competing companies. Objections to applications may also be resolved through facilitation, mediation, or negotiated settlements approved by the Board. However, any unresolved matter or objection related to an application may proceed to an ERCB hearing.

ERCB Hearings

An ERCB hearing is a formal process that provides an important opportunity for different points of view about an energy project to be aired in a fair and orderly forum. A hearing allows for an open, public testing of technical, environmental, social, and economic evidence from those involved. The process ensures that all relevant arguments for and against the energy facility project are heard.

ERCB hearings are held when the ERCB receives an objection from a person who may be directly and adversely affected by a proposed project. Applications filed may create community concern or a need for more information; however, these matters are often settled through an Appropriate Dispute Resolution (ADR) process. When matters are settled though ADR or there are no public concerns and objections, there is no need for a hearing. The Board will also dismiss objections if the person does not appear to be directly or adversely affected.

The ERCB mails a Notice of Hearing to inform people and organizations affected by an application about the hearing. The Notice of Hearing may be published in daily and/or weekly newspapers.

Hearing notices are available on the ERCB Web site. Companies involved in large projects usually hold an open house to explain their proposed project, answer citizens’ questions, and address the community’s concerns.

The Notice of Hearing provides interested parties with the following information:
*date, time, and location of the hearing,
*application number and nature of the application,
*a contact for the company that filed the application,
*ERCB information,
*the due date for filing objections or interventions, and
*a statement that all material relating to the proceeding is subject to Alberta’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy legislation.

An ERCB hearing follows a formal process to ensure that everyone has a say:

*"Opening Remarks": The panel chair explains the purpose of the hearing and introduces the members of the panel and all ERCB staff in the room. Then participants in the hearing register an appearance, coming forward and introducing themselves.
*"Preliminary Matters": Procedural and legal matters are presented, such as adjournment requests or the scheduling of a specific witness at a particular time.
*"Applicant (Application)": The applicant presents its case and may question its own witnesses. Then interveners, ERCB staff, and the Board panel may cross-examine those witnesses. Once cross-examinations are complete, the applicant may question the witnesses again to clarify any issues that arose.
*"Interveners": Interveners next present their cases in the same order they registered. After the intervener gives direct evidence, the lawyer for the applicant may cross-examine, followed by the other interveners who wish to cross-examine. ERCB staff and members of the panel may then cross-examine the intervener. Following cross-examination, the intervener is entitled to clarify any matters that arose.
*"Rebuttal Evidence by Applicant": Once the above process is complete with all the interveners and their witnesses, the applicant may submit additional evidence to address new points raised by interveners' evidence.
*"Final Argument or Summation": Each participant may provide an explanation of what he or she believes are the important aspects of the issues involved and what decisions they feel the panel should make. The applicant may respond to interveners' arguments.
*"Closing of Hearing": The panel chair announces the hearing is completed and that the decision of the panel and the reasons for it will be given at a later date.

External links

* [http://www.ercb.ca Energy Resources Conservation Board]
* [http://www.ags.gov.ab.ca Alberta Geological Survey Website]


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